Thoughts on Japan across years and topics

Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan

Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan

Viewed Sideways: Writings on Culture and Style in Contemporary Japan
By Donald Richie (Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2011, 264 pp., $16.95, paperback)

It is difficult to find the balance in talking and writing about a foreign culture without generalizing or, worse yet, affirming stereotypes. Asia, for its exotic allure, is often thus easily dismissed in pithy descriptions perpetuated from the days before the Great War. Yet Donald Richie, having spent more than half of his life in Japan, writies about the country with clarity and simplicity without falling into the pitfalls of dismissing it as a land of “paradoxes.”

Richie discusses a full spectrum of Japanese culture. While he is noted for his work and thoughts on Japanese cinema, Richie does not shy away from delving into the conundrum of defining beauty according to Japanese aesthetics while citing the Japanese dating simulation, “Tokimeki Memorial,” or from plowing into the nation’s extensive sex club culture. At the same time, he writes on his observations in admiring Japan’s high traditional arts, such as noh drama or its calligraphy. And of course, he discusses his thoughts on film and television.

Overall intricate, the collection of essays range from those written in the ‘60s to those written in the last few years, yet all of them remain relevant today. The older essay on signs and symbols signified by calligraphy styles, written in 1974, still remains relevant and relatable, as does his observations made out of his apartment window on his changing neighborhood, written in 2006.

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